News :: International

Malaysian Pastor is Out, Engaged, and Calling on Gays to Emerge

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Aug 9, 2011
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Openly gay Malaysian pastor Ouyang Wen Feng not only models a life of openness, honesty, and integrity; he also asks others to come out of the closet in order to demonstrate to fearful heterosexuals that they have nothing to be afraid of from their GLBT neighbors, friends, colleagues, and relations.

The 41-year-old pastor lives in the United States, reported UK gay news site Pink News on Aug. 9, but spends a good deal of time in his native Malaysia to work for gay rights. Homosexuality is illegal in the Muslim-majority nation, Pink News noted.

The AFP noted in an article posted Aug. 9 by American site The Raw Story that Ouyang is engaged to be married to an American man, a Broadway producer who proposed to him two days after marriage equality became legal in the state of New York.

"It was also the day of our two-year anniversary," Ouyang told the AFP.

Ouyang told the AFP that when social oppression drives sexual minorities into the closet, the only result is more oppression. Conversely, when gays live openly, heterosexuals can see for themselves that the stereotypes and myths perpetrated by anti-gay forces have little bearing on reality. As stigma evaporates, so does oppression, allowing more and more GLBTs to emerge into daylight.

"When gay people stay in the closet, people don’t know what is gay or homosexuality and because of ignorance they keep discriminating and that will perpetuate prejudice," Ouyang, who has written a new book about being gay and Christian, said.

"Gay people cannot just blame straight people for not understanding us," the pastor added. "Gay people should keep coming out and straight people who are okay with homosexuals should also come out to say publicly that being gay is okay -- ’I’m okay with my gay friends.’ "

The article noted that Ouyang had been married for nine years to a woman. She finally helped him to tell the truth.

"She encouraged me to come out," Ouyang told the AFP. "She asked for a divorce, and this is the biggest gift she could ever give me, she literally set me free. I owe her big time."

Ouyang provoked an uproar several years ago when he established an open and affirming Christian church in Kuala Lumpur. The AFP article related that the government refused to grant the church official recognition. Other clerics decried the church, saying that it would promote a gay lifestyle.

Ouyang brushed aside such notions, saying, "I am not promoting gay culture. I am promoting honesty, love and justice."

Ouyang has worked with Metropolitan Community Church, which supports and runs GLBT-affirming churches around the world, including intensely homophobic countries such as Jamaica.

Pink News recalled that in April, the Malaysian government had promoted a scheme to toughen up "effeminate" boys at a boot camp in an attempt to prevent them from being gay.

Sixty-six schoolboys in Malaysia between the ages of 13 - 17 were identified by teachers as "effeminate" and were to be sent to a camp to man up, news sources reported on April 21. The education director of the heavily Muslim nation said that the effort to eradicate unmanly habits before the lads reach a "point of no return" is in their best interests, a Taipei Times article said.

"Some effeminate boys end up as a transvestite or a homosexual, but we want to do our best to limit this," said Razali Daud. "Such effeminate behavior is unnatural and will affect their studies and their future."

The article said that the boys would receive religious instruction and physical training at the camp, which was slated to last for four days. The camp was referred to as a "self-development course."

Daud denied that the boys were forced to go, saying that they had been "invited" to the program. After the four-day program, he added, the adults in their lives would watch over their continued masculine development.

"It is not an overnight cure," said Daud. "We can’t force the boys to change, but we want them to know what their choices are in life." Daud also said that the program was intended as a means "to guide them back to the right path in life before they reach a point of no return" -- presumably to homosexuality.

Sexual expression between consenting adults of the same gender is illegal in Malaysia. The punishment is severe -- up to 20 years in prison. GLBT equality advocates there spoke out nonetheless.

"If we don’t do anything to stop the rot of homophobia ... I worry it may get worse," said Pang Khee Teik of GLBT rights group Seksualiti Merdeka. "All the students will learn from these camps is that they are expected to behave a certain way. And in order to avoid further ridicule, perhaps they will learn to pretend better. In the end, we are only teaching them how to be a hypocrite."

The BBC News reported on April 20 that the Malaysian women’s minister, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, objected to the plan, saying that it violates the country’s child protection law.

"We should send a clear message to institutions that they have no business meddling with an individual’s identity and personal preference," said Malaysian rights organization the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality in a statement.

The group condemned what it called "corrective boot camps" and went on to say that the program "should be strongly opposed and challenged as it promotes homophobia and prejudice."

Religiously motivated groups in the United States operate under a similar philosophy, offering "reparative therapy" that purports to "cure" gays and "convert" them to heterosexuality.

Many gays reject the suggestion that their sexuality is a matter of choice. Mental health professionals agree, by and large, and warn that "reparative therapy" risks doing more harm than good to individuals seeking to alter their innate sexual urges.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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